MEDFORD, Ore. — The Oregon Department of Forestry's regional office for southwest Oregon is requesting that people halt all debris burning for the season as fire danger begins to rise sharply.
The request does not represent an official increase in the local fire danger level or restrictions, ODF said in a statement, but is a request by authorities to avoid further escaped burns.
"Dry and warm April weather has driven up the fire danger in much of Oregon, and southwest Oregon’s wildlands are the driest of any region west of the Cascade Range," the agency said.
ODF crews have already responded to a spate of grass and brush fires almost every day for the past several weeks, the agency said. With continued dry weather, those fires are only getting larger and more intense. Many of these fires have started with escaped burn piles.
"While the only closure of open burning applies to industrial operations, the Department of Forestry asks citizens to postpone any burning projects until fall, or until there is significant rainfall and a drop in temperatures," ODF said. "This is not a regulatory change, but a request made jointly by ODF, the Oregon State Fire Marshal and the Department of Environmental Quality."
- Authorities are also concerned about how the prospect of increased smoke will coincide with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic for both the public and first responders. ODF cited the following potential issues:
- Smoke inhalation can cause upper respiratory symptoms, which could be incorrectly attributed to COVID-19, leading to unnecessary testing or self-isolation.
- Exposure to smoke and other forms of air pollution can increase the risk of contracting infectious respiratory disease such as COVID-19, increase the severity of existing respiratory infections, and worsen underlying chronic respiratory conditions.
- There is a severe shortage of personal protective equipment to reduce smoke exposure at this time.
- First responders and other emergency services are operating at a reduced capacity and have limited resources to respond to out-of-control burns
Forestry agencies across the region either slowed or halted entirely their spring prescribed burn operations due to precautions around COVID-19. The U.S. Forest Service announced on March 25 that it would halt all controlled burns in Oregon and Washington for that reason.
ODF's Southwest Oregon District is responsible for 1.8 million acres of private, state, county, and federal wildlands in Jackson and Josephine counties. Questions about burning and wildland fire protection can be directed to the district office at 541-664-3328.